Much of the focus today will be on the Denver Broncos offense. Can they protect Peyton Manning as well as they did two weeks ago in Denver? How will they fare without Julius Thomas? How effective will a banged up Knowshon Moreno be? Even with all of those questions, the more significant issues might lie on the other side of the ball.
The Broncos’ defense is in big trouble.
Start with the injuries. They are already without safety Rahim Moore. Defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson, a key part of the defense, was placed on Injured Reserve this week. Defensive tackle Derek Wolfe, hospitalized this week with seizure-like symptoms, is also out. Finally, and perhaps most significantly, cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will likely be out of the lineup with a shoulder injury (as reported by the Denver Post).
This raises two key questions for the defense.
1. Will the front seven survive against Jamaal Charles?
I would argue that the defense bottled up Charles and Dexter McCluster two weeks ago largely because of their speed, especially linebackers Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard. But those guys are generally freed up to make plays by solid play by the defensive line; can the defensive line hold up down two guys, or will Chiefs coach Andy Reid be able to cut Charles loose to gash the Broncos today?
2. Which version of Champ Bailey will the Broncos get?
The secondary loses DRC, far and away their best player this season, but gains its most noteworthy player with the return of Champ Bailey. Reputation is one thing, but actual play on the field is another. In limited action this season, Bailey was just flat-out bad. Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts beat him up in week six in Denver; Pro Football Focus graded him at a -1.2 that day (on a scale of -2.0 to 2.0), with only back-up lineback Paris Lenon playing a worse game. He was also ineffective the next week against the Colts in limited action.
Bailey looked a step slow (or more) against Jacksonville’s receivers especially. With no DRC, the Broncos will likely ask Bailey to cover a suddenly resurgent Dwayne Bowe. If he is not up to the task, that means that Kansas City’s two most talented offensive players, Charles and Bowe, are set up for big days.
Hopefully Manning and the offense are equipped for a shootout, because their defense is shorthanded and might find themselves in a lot of trouble today.